For the Love of a Good Book

I tried to write this thing about the polar vortex yesterday, but it just wasn’t coming to me. Giving up, something I am loathe to do, felt like the only answer, so I forced myself to ignore the flashing red “loser” light that came on in my head. I’d given the vortex idea a try, several in fact, but just couldn’t find a way into it. The words just wouldn’t come, though I like the idea I had for the polar vortex but not now – so don’t think you’re off the hook.

Without mulling it over, I shut the lid of my computer and picked up a book I’d started reading a couple of days ago. Going out on the back porch and sinking into a cushy chair with a BIC blue, fine-point pen in hand (I love to underline and write notes in my books), I picked up the story where I’d left off. Did I feel guilty, knowing I should have been working on my blog? I’m sure I should have, but owning this decision instead of continuing to struggle with it was a good feeling – and that’s how Stephen King and I wound up sitting together in a heavenly breeze on a warm, sunny day, thoroughly enjoying each other’s company.

Anyway, reading always makes me feel better and often regenerates the thought processes. Besides, the intrinsic value I derive from reading seemed worth the sacrifice of, at best, one mediocre blog that first effort would have brought forth.

People talk about good books all the time but in many respects “good” is pretty subjective, don’t you think? Is “good” the same for you as for me? And how does one measure the value of a good book? Books that have made a tremendous impact on your life are ones you remember – oh, maybe not the entire story line or even more than a couple of specifics – unless you are my daughter, Laura, who’s memory in this regard is phenomenal – but you may recall the title, the author, or that it changed you in some significant and important way: made you a better person, more aware, less alone.

There are books that you remember forever because they represent turning points, the value of which have been immeasurable. And a turning point can’t always be measured in external changes. Many times the subtler ones result in more currency when redeemed at the cash-and-carry.

Certain books may have had an impact on your emotional and psychological well-being, too. How can anyone deny the value of that?

Some of you might be asking yourselves if I felt guilty wasting time that might be put to better use rather than reading a novel by Stephen King (Joyland, in case you were wondering), and my question to you is, what’s wrong with wiling the day away with a book. Any book – well, almost any book. Absolutely nothing, according to the French who can’t fathom an American attitude that espouses not wasting one minute of any day – as if reading were a waste of time. The French do it all the time but don’t for one minute consider reading all day wasting time. They revel in the time spent with a good book. If it provides a moment of calm reflection or just slows you down to a reasonable pace and makes you detach from your cell phone for a short while, tell me: how is that a waste?

My family knows well my attitude toward wasting anything, as the motto by which I’ve lived my life is Waste Not, Want Not. Anyone who’s grown up poor can understand this. So believe me when I say that while I may plop down somewhere – the back porch in the summer or, in winter draping my legs over one arm of an overstuffed chair in front of my large bay window – and spend hours on end with a book that talks to me and captures my attention, it is very hard not to think of myself as “wasting time” when there are many more things I could be doing that are purposeful. That have a goal: laundry for example, or vacuuming, plucking resistant weeds from the mulch around the house (scratch that, I hate bugs). That sort of thing. Things viewed as useful endeavors that bear visible fruit.

Not so with reading. What have you got when the book’s done? Hours counted on a clock that have passed you by with “nothing to show for your efforts.” The book goes back on the shelf with nothing one can point to and say: look what I did today. You did do something when you engaged with that book – and that something, no matter how small, has made a difference on the inside.

What I consider the real waste of time is not taking the time to read books. Read something that provokes your interest or enlightens the mind. Something that enriches you as a person. But don’t forget to read just for fun, too, for its entertainment value. We all need to get out of ourselves and away from our lives sometimes. Reading about others’ lives, even if they’re not real people, can help us do that. They can provide a fresh perspective or at least make our own lives fade into the background and disappear for a little while.

I think Stephen King would agree with that.

If we could be more like the French in this regard, it would do us all a lot of good.

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